ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — A lack of consistency has raised questions as to how ready the Buffalo Bills are a little more than two weeks before the start of the season.
"We've got plenty to work on," coach Chan Gailey said. "We don't need to cancel any practices."
Gailey hasn't let his players off easy this week, especially with the starters set to get their most playing time of the preseason on Saturday when the Bills (No. 19 in the AP Pro32) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 7). It's the third preseason game, and one in which the starting units will have one last chance to work out the numerous kinks that have hampered them in two losses.
"We need to get better. We want to see improvement," said Gailey, who traditionally rests his starters in the fourth preseason game. "I don't know what that will show. It should show more production, but we have to get better."
His message applies to both sides of the ball.
The Ryan Fitzpatrick-led offense has lacked both finish and efficiency.
In seven possessions through two games, the Bills' starting offense has totaled just 113 net yards, five first downs, a touchdown and a field goal. The running game has been anemic, having combined for 24 net yards, and the offensive line has been in flux as a result of injuries.
"This is the last big one for the starters to go out there and get everything fine-tuned before it counts," Fitzpatrick said. "This one, I would say, is important to us to get out there and play well."
The production's been little better on a retooled Mario Williams-led defense that's shown glimpses of its pass-rushing potential, but has also been susceptible to giving up big plays.
That was particularly apparent in a 36-14 loss at Minnesota last week, in which the Vikings starters racked up 166 yards offense, eight first downs and scored 10 points on three possessions. It could've been 13 points had Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh not hooked a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The numbers overshadowed the success of Buffalo's pass rush, in which tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams each picked up a sack.
"I think we got some good pressure on them, but I was displeased with allowing the big plays," Gailey said. "We would get them in a hole, and let them out. And you can't do that to be a great defense, which I think we can be."
Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt described the big plays as "disturbing."
The Bills have placed big expectations of their high-priced defense after signing Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract in free agency this offseason, and then landing defensive end Mark Anderson a week later. They are being counted on providing an immediate impact to improve a defense that had difficulty applying pressure and allowed a franchise-worst 5,938 yards last season.
Williams doesn't see a reason for concern.
"Whenever we come out here in the regular season, we're going to be smoking," he said.
And yet he acknowledged a need for the defense to step up its play on Saturday.
"We're taking this like a regular game," Williams said. "So we're definitely going to get amped up for this and get it in the right direction."
Gailey's taken a different approach to practice this week in which he's had each session mimic what a regular-season week of practice would resemble.
He's installing the semblance of a game-plan against the Steelers, and also having his starting units practice against scout teams. Part of the reason Gailey's done this is to provide newcomers to the team — both players and coaches — a chance to be familiar with an in-season game week.
Another is to prepare for a Steelers team that remains among the NFL's elite.
"We need a mental challenge, but it will be a very physical challenge, too, because they're a physical football team," Gailey said. "You want to be physical. You want to set the tone."
NOTES: Veteran CB Terrence McGee is expected to make his preseason debut after sitting out the first two games to rest his surgically repaired left knee. ... Gailey expects the starters to play at least the entire first half. ... DE Anderson (groin) missed his third practice and is not expected to play Saturday. Gailey expects Anderson to return to practice next week.
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